All we had to go on was a name, a street, and a postal code. But sometimes when things seem like they’re not working out, that’s exactly how they’re supposed to work out.
One Monday in Nuremberg, my companion, Sister Clark, and I received a referral. Now, first of all, a referral in my mission didn’t mean the same thing that it does in most missions: we rarely got referrals from members or investigators. When we said “referral,” we meant “a contact from another mission” (or sometimes from a different area in our mission). Generally, it was a letter emailed to our mission office, then printed out and mailed to us, because the person in question lived in our area. In this case, the referral came from Temple Square. As far as I remember, this was the only referral from Temple Square that I ever saw.
According to the Missionary Handbook (the small “white handbook” issued to and carried by all missionaries), referrals were supposed to be contacted within 24 hours of receiving the referral. That basically never happened in any program [Note 1] I was ever in (in my mission, we called them “programs” instead of “areas,” partially because we often didn’t have clearly defined areas). But, since Sister Clark was a greenie, and also because Tuesday morning was the only time all week that we would be able to contact this person, we planned to stop by the next day.
The problem was that the referral contained only three pieces of information: a first name, Markus; a street name which I no longer remember, but started with G, I’m pretty sure; and a postal code. Well, that’s not much to go on. But the postal code was in our area (in Langwasser, I believe), and there was a street by that name within the postal code, so Sister Clark was all set to go find Markus. I was kind of an old, embittered missionary at this point, so I inwardly rolled by eyes at Sister Clark’s faith and enthusiasm. I knew there was no way we were going to find this guy, but oh well, we didn’t have anything better to do. So we went.
When we arrived, the good news was that the street had only 15 houses on it. The bad news was that this was Germany, and they were not single-family houses. Every house on the street had at least eight apartments, and most had more. We wandered around wondering what to do and found a little playground behind one of the buildings. We sat on a bench for a little while. I was probably feeling dejected and/or hopeless. Some kids asked us what we were doing, and we told them we were looking for someone named Markus. They didn’t know any Markus. Ah, well, I guess we’re done here. Sister Clark said we should pray. So we went over to building 2 and, as I recall, stood near a dumpster and prayed. I was trying to have faith. At the end of the prayer, we both felt like we should try buildings 2 and 3.
So we did. Building 2 had only six or eight apartments in it. We got buzzed into the building and rang every doorbell, asking for Markus at the rare door where someone answered. No Markus. Well, the white handbook also points out that sometimes, the referral guides missionaries to someone else who is prepared, so we also asked if anyone wanted to learn more. Nope. So we tried building 3, which was much bigger. I think it had at least 20 apartments. No Markus, kein Interesse. Hardly anyone even answered the door. On the way out, I was definitely feeling dejected. We prayed and felt like we should go to buildings 2 and 3; why hadn’t we found Markus or anyone else who wanted to learn? As we walked down the stairs, I thought to myself, You know, we should try building 15. I told Sister Clark. I knew enough to recognize that weird, random ideas that appear out of nowhere and don’t make any sense are probably from the Spirit, so we went to building 15.
A woman on the first floor buzzed us in. No Markus in this apartment. No, not interested. Wait, Markus? Yes, there’s a Markus on the top floor. His last name starts with O, it’s a Polish name.
Off we went to the top floor! We rang the bell at the door that was clearly Markus’s. A lady opened the door and before we had time to say anything, she said, “Kein Interesse!” and shut the door. We didn’t know what to do, since we were fairly certain this was Markus’s apartment, but the lady didn’t want us around. Ring the doorbell again? Leave a note for Markus?
Just then, we heard the door downstairs open and slam shut, followed by the sound of someone running up the stairs. He turned the corner in the stairwell, saw us, and said, in effect, “Sisters, I’m so glad you’re here! Come in!” When he ushered us into the apartment, his mother tried to protest, but he told her it was fine and he was expecting us. We sat down and he explained that he’s not normally home at this time, because he’s a university student, but he forgot something and had to rush home for it. The delay caused by ringing every bell in buildings 2 and 3 was the only thing that led to us being there at the right time.
Markus had visited Temple Square, met the sisters there, and was interested in learning more. We taught him a first discussion (which was a little tricky, because he was a talker) and bore our testimonies that Heavenly Father really wanted us to find him. We told him the story of how we found him and he agreed that it was a miracle.
Because he was a student, he was very busy and couldn’t schedule a second lesson. We gave his contact information (complete, this time) to the elders to follow up. Then I got transferred. I have no idea what happened to him. At the time he seemed like he was very prepared to hear and accept the gospel, and we were disappointed that it seemed it would be really hard to meet with him. In hindsight, however, it’s entirely possible that this whole experience was more beneficial for me than for anyone else involved. I am still amazed at how all of that worked out, and I absolutely know that it was not a coincidence. This will always be my favorite mission story because it’s the experience that I learned the most from: don’t be faithless and hardened by experience; heed the Spirit; and do the things you’re supposed to do.
- My first program, in Augsburg, was one of four proselyting programs in the city. Each program (companionship) had a few areas scattered around the city where we worked. Sister West (my trainer) and I worked in Hochzoll and Pfersee, which are on opposite sides of town, as well as teaching single women all over the city. One set of elders worked in Oberhausen, which was a pretty depressing place to work because no one there spoke German.